Ngũgĩ and Oates [Nobel Speculation]

Nobody (short of the people at Ladbrokes making the odds, and maybe not even them) tracks the likely candidates for the Nobel Prize in literature closer than Michael Orthofer, and as of today he has concluded that there are two authors who are likely to be Nobel finalists: Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, probably best-known for his 2006 mega-novel Wizard of the Crow, and Joyce Carol Oates, probably best known for freaking everyone out by writing thousands of books.

This is interesting. I don’t claim to know precisely how Michael picked up Oates as a Nobel finalist (and to be sure, nobody, except the people on the Nobel committee and possibly the odds-makers at Ladbrokes), but if he says she’s on there, there’s a decent chance she is. Which would be a strange thing, because it’s been quite a while since an American picked up this award—Toni Morrison in 1993—and I’m guessing that many, many readers out there would not put JCO as their top American contender.

Here’s Michael’s explanation as to why JCO is tipped to possibly win:

The one stand-out is Joyce Carol Oates. Last I checked her odds at Ladbrokes last year, a few hours before the winning announcement, she rated only 33/1 — but, as mentioned to me on Twitter, someone did report her odds shooting up to 9/1 just before betting closed — a last-minute surge suggesting some leakage that she was at least one of the finalists. Note also that she was the closing favorite at Betsson last year, too, just ahead of Murakami (4.50 to 4.60).

Oates wouldn’t seem the likeliest of American contenders, but the betting consensus rating her so high suggests there might be something to this — more plausible, too, because of all the authors whose books are hard to hide, she certainly ranks right up there, simply because there are so many of them (in other words: it wouldn’t take much for more than one Swedish Academician to be spied reading one of her books (or lugging around three dozen of them …), enough to attract the gossip-mongers, and bookies’ attention). It’s also worth noting that a lot of her work has been translated into Swedish (not a prerequisite, but it can’t hurt if she is locally widely known and accessible) — and that her name has certainly been floated, seriously, before (even in Swedish papers — recall Magnus Sjöholm’s 2011 article, Nobelpriset: Min favorit är Joyce Carol Oates (okay, that’s only half-serious — but still)).

As usual, most of the top contenders (odds-wise) are writers in translation. Here are the top 10 as per The Complete Review as of a couple of days ago:

Murakami Haruki 3/1
Joyce Carol Oates 6/1
Nádas Péter 7/1
Ko Un 10/1
Alice Munro 12/1
Adonis 14/1
Assia Djebar 14/1
Amos Oz 16/1
Philip Roth 16/1
Thomas Pynchon 20/1

Interestingly, Michael says that Cesar Aira made his first ever appearance on the odds list at 100/1. At those odds he’s little more than the opportunity for a few Aira-lovers to throw away some money on wishful thinking, but it is nonetheless nice to see him up there. Now there’s a ceaselessly prolific novelist I could get behind for this award.

Michael also claims that Spaniard Javier Marías is a good bet at the moment, with odds well below his chances of winning. When you look at all the awards he’s picked up, there are probably few that he’s been eligible for that he hasn’t won yet.

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